Amtrak’s Seattle-Chicago and Seattle-California trips were among those canceled in preparation for a threatened Friday strike by railroad workers.
With the Empire Builder line and Coast Starlight lines already among the handful of long-distance routes sidetracked, Amtrak may ramp up cancellations if the railroads and the freight rail workers unions fail to reach an agreement by 9 p.m. Thursday.
Amtrak has already canceled several of its long-distance trains because there wouldn’t be enough time for them to reach their destinations before a strike or lockout would be allowed to begin. In addition to the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight, Amtrak trips previously scheduled for Wednesday on the California Zephyr, City of New Orleans and Texas Eagle lines have been canceled.
Amtrak’s popular Cascades line, which runs through Seattle on the Vancouver-Eugene, Oregon, rail corridor, will be shut down if a work stoppage takes place.
Thursday Cascades passengers may be switched to buses if necessary, said Janet Matkin, communications manager with the Washington State Department of Transportation. Amtrak operates in Washington in partnership with the state agency.
“However, if a strike occurs, it will result in complete service disruptions starting on Friday and there are no buses available this weekend to provide alternative transportation options,” she continued. Ticketed passengers may change their travel date at no extra cost or receive a full refund.
Most Amtrak trains run on tracks owned by freight railroads, and cannot operate if the tracks are shutdown due to a work stoppage. The train tracks on which Amtrak Cascades trains run in Washington are primarily owned by BNSF Railway.
“BNSF controls all train movements in this area and therefore the potential strike will affect Amtrak Cascades trains because they cannot operate without dispatchers,” Matkin said.
Amtrak has pledged any cancellations will come at least 24 hours ahead of expected departures.
Railroads have already started to curtail shipments of hazardous materials and have announced plans to stop hauling refrigerated products ahead of Friday’s strike deadline. Now businesses that rely on Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern and other railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished products have started planning for the worst.
Meanwhile, Biden administration officials are scrambling to develop a plan to use trucks, ships and planes to try to keep the most crucial chemicals and other goods moving if the railroads stop rolling. But the White House is also keeping the pressure on the two sides to settle their differences, and a growing number of business groups are lobbying Congress to be prepared to intervene and block a strike if they can’t reach an agreement.
The railroads have reached tentative agreements with most of their unions, including a ninth deal announced Tuesday, based on the recommendations of a Presidential Emergency Board Joe Biden appointed this summer that called for 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses in a five-year deal that’s retroactive to 2020. The deal also includes one additional paid leave day a year and higher health insurance costs.
But all 12 railroad unions must agree to prevent a strike. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union that represents engineers, and the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union that represents conductors want the railroads to address some of their concerns about unpredictable work schedules and strict attendance rules in addition to agreeing to the recommended wage increases.
This story includes information from Associated Press reports.